Book Review – ‘British Box Business: A history of OCL’ by René Taudal Poulsen

By René Taudal Poulsen, published January 2021


In the 1950s container shipping was pioneered by US and Australian companies in their domestic trades, and by the mid-1960s it diffused internationally. In order to ensure survival, European shipping lines with strongholds in most liner trades were forced to respond quickly. They became second movers in the process of innovation. British Box Business focuses on such responses in the case of Overseas Containers Limited (OCL). It explains the background for the formation of OCL in 1965 and directs the main focus towards the 1960s and 1970s. However, it also contains short chapters on the subsequent developments up to 2009.

British Box Business is written by OCL insiders. Edited by Alan Bott, a former OCL director, the book is authored by several former OCL employees. It is comprehensive in characterizing the personalities of key decision makers, but it sometimes gravitates toward a sentimental tone.

Several studies on the history of containerization have been published in recent years, but most of them have focused on the US pioneers. British Box Business gives relevant insights into the responses of traditional European lines which have not received so much attention. In this respect, it makes a contribution to the study of maritime history in the twentieth century. It provides detailed, retrospective perspectives on containerization from the viewpoints of some of the managers, who were deeply involved in the process. Former OCL employees seem intended as the main audience for the book, but it is recommended reading to everyone with an interest in innovation in shipping …

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Filed under: Post WW2 | Other (Twentieth C)
Subjects include: Merchant Marines | Shipbuilding & Design

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